Experience moves fire life safety manager to educate building owners

Kennedy Sanders, P1 Group, Local No. 88 lab all working to keep Las Vegas safe

LAS VEGAS – Fifteen years ago, Las Vegas resident Kennedy Sanders pushed his wife and three children out the door of their vacation hotel at midnight because the fire alarm had sounded. And it wasn’t a drill.

Among the noise and chaos, Sanders, a unionized sheet metal worker for 20 years at the time and trained in fire life safety, air movement and smoke control systems, couldn’t believe just how many devices and systems weren’t in working order.

“The elevator lobby is supposed to be an egress– that malfunctioned,” Sanders said. “I was living the nightmare as a guest, but I knew how the system should have been performing. Nothing about the smoke control system worked.”

After the experience, he came home determined to educate those outside the industry about HVAC Fire Life Safety and the suppression systems that keep smoke contained, so occupants can escape and first responders can get inside.

“When I check into a hotel, I’m relying on you — the owner — to do your part. It’s your responsibility to make sure it’s all working correctly,” Sanders added. “But they don’t have the education. They don’t know what they don’t know.”

Sanders, start and test manager for P1 Group in Las Vegas, joined the company four years ago to help bring that education to people who need it — the building owners who are ultimately liable.

Currently, P1 Group inspects, tests and maintains fire and smoke dampers and smoke control systems at all buildings on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus as well as Clark County buildings. In addition, Sanders, along with Brian Maginness and Chad Mosley, also work on education. P1 Group created a department for the trio — all certified professionals — to concentrate on inspections, maintenance, repair, testing and retro-commissioning.

A common malfunction is in the actuator, which can become unhinged from the damper. On a fire panel, a building owner can see a green light, meaning the actuator is working, but in reality, it lost the ability to open and close the damper, Sanders said.

“It’s a challenge because no one sees a fault until there is a fire,” he added. “There is nothing that tells you they’ve failed. It’s a false sense of security. Trouble is, it’s only detected when you test the dampers.”

Commonly, fire and smoke dampers, along with smoke control systems, are tested upon installation, but unless they are required by law to be tested every few years — in the case of hospitals, for example — the dampers go uninspected, said Brad Davis, operations manager for P1 Group, Las Vegas.

People maintain their cars, their bodies. They should maintain a smoke control system that could save their lives.

“There is a stringent test for fire alarms. They have service groups on staff for the fire suppression systems,” Davis said. “They don’t realize the danger they’re putting the fire department in. They’re risking lives without testing all of the systems, including smoke control.”

The battle to educate people — from building owners to fire inspectors and government officials — will hopefully get easier with the addition of an HVAC Fire Life Safety demonstration lab at Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 88, which is set for completion in the spring.

The lab will showcase dampers working properly as well as malfunctioning, turning attendees into participants, said Jeff Proffitt, training coordinator for Local No. 88.

“The HVAC Fire Life Safety lab allows for many learning opportunities. Apprentices will learn how to properly install, inspect, test and maintain the dampers — and become certified to do so — and fire officials and building owners who come to demonstrations can better understand the liability when these dampers fail,” Proffitt added. “It’s all about education and saving lives.”

Nothing can compare to the real life experience, Sanders said, but the lab will definitely help people understand. It also will bring in more work for signatory contractors like P1 Group.

“There will be a 30- to 40-percent increase within a year of the lab being functional,” Sanders said. “And the numbers will go up from there. We’re installing the smoke management systems. We should be inspecting them too.”

In addition to his brush with fire while on vacation, Sanders worked as a medical assistant at Valley Hospital the day of the MGM fire on Nov. 21, 1980. Eighty-seven people died that day — many from smoke inhalation due to faulty smoke control systems. Those images stick with him as much as the fear and chaos of the California hotel.

“Ultimately, we’re saving lives. It prevents those casualties we know are unnecessary,” Sanders said. “By the time there’s a fire, it’s too late.”

ICB/TABB is the first program to gain ANSI (American National Standards Institute) accreditation for certification in the testing, adjusting and balancing industry. Certification is a statement that the technician, supervisor and contractor demonstrate the highest level of professional expertise.

For information on HVAC Fire Life Safety labs, or help opening a HVAC Fire Life Safety division, contact NEMIC at www.TABBCertified.org or call 800-458-6525.